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Mystery of missing Titanic Relief Fund book
Titanic committe minute book
The Titanic Relief Fund was set up to help the families of victims

Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of an early record of aid given to relatives of victims of the Titanic disaster.

When RMS Titanic sank beneath the waves of the north Atlantic in April 1912, the news quickly spread around the world - but the impact was most profoundly felt in Southampton.

Most of the crew lived in the city so many families lost their main breadwinner.

The Titanic Relief Fund was set up to provide for families and dependants.

Relief fund

In Southampton's Central Library, senior archivist Joanne Smith gently turns the pages of 'Southampton Titanic Committee, Minute Book No. 2'.

Southampton Titanic Committee, Minute Book No. 2
Minute book
Jones no 466 "The deceased was a single man aged 20 and the claim is entered on behalf of his brother, a boy aged nine and his sisters both under 12. The trustee, Mr Arthur Weston, makes an appeal for assistance from the fund to ensure a thorough education for the boy."
Penrose no 551 " 8/6 to Miss Penrose. Cost a pair of eye glasses"
Witts no 272 "That all the Saints Parish relief committee be asked to contribute half the cost of Mrs Fielders artificial teeth."
Johnson no 698 "One Quart of milk per day six eggs to the value of 1/2d per week to be continued to Mrs Johnson (widow) for a further three months."

She said: "It's a beautiful document - very important for the city of Southampton."

The sepia pages of the ledger contain countless entries, all in fading Edwardian calligraphy. They detail the transactions and payments made by Southampton sub-committee of the relief fund.

Almost a century on, the book brings to life just how devastating the loss of Titanic was for the city - especially in areas like Chapel, Northam and St Mary's, where many of the 'below deck' crewmen lived.

Of the crew, 724 lived within the Southampton area - only 175 returned home. In one school in Northam, 120 out of the 240 children on the roll lost their father.

Without a universal welfare state and with so many families affected, the local authorities had to provide for the widows and orphans of crew and passengers and the Titanic Relief Fund was set up.

Because the sinking of the Titanic was worldwide news, and as so many people from different countries and classes were affected, a great deal of effort was put into raising money for the Relief Fund. Many individuals as well as companies contributed to the appeal.

Minute book
The book records payments from the fund to dependants of Titanic victims

Some families were given weekly allowances, while other applied for help with school and apprenticeship fees, but there were also claims for mundane, but costly items like false teeth.

Joanne Smith explained: "If the son of a deceased member of the crew wanted an apprenticeship, the fund would often provide a suit for his interview or a bicycle to get to work."

The ledger also includes an index of surnames, making it an invaluable resource for Titanic history experts or family researchers.

Book number one

While Southampton Titanic Committee, Minute Book No. 2 is an important asset in the city's archives, it begs the question, what about book number one?

Joanne Smith explained: "This is a very sad story. Unfortunately we never got the first minute book. The documents came to us in the 1970s from a firm of chartered accountants called William Waldron.

"When the books arrived, they started with 'No.2' and the first one has never come to light since - we really don't know what happened to it. It's a bit of a mystery."

The second book contains entries from November 1912 until the 1950s (many payments were made for a lifetime).

Southampton archives
Archivist Joanne Smith would love to see the first minute book

However Joanne Smith said historians would love to see the earlier entries.

She explained: "The first part of the minute book would be the most interesting - it would deal with the setting up of the fund and the initial claims of family members so it is there where you would get most of the detail about the people who are claiming.

"We did hear a number of years ago, from someone who used to work at the firm that she did remember the book being with them, but its whereabouts since then are a complete mystery."

Until any more information emerges, like many aspects of the Titanic's fateful story, the whereabouts of Book Number One is set to remain unanswered.

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